Roses Are Red, but Could They Be Greener?

Welcome to the Climate Fwd: newsletter. The New York Times climate team emails readers once a week with stories and insights about climate change. Sign up here to get it in your inbox.

Lisa Friedman

Hi, everyone. President Trump recently announced he would nominate David Bernhardt, a former oil lobbyist who is currently the acting secretary of the Interior Department, to formally lead the agency. This week, my colleague Coral Davenport published a big story looking at whether Mr. Bernhardt has used his position to benefit a former client.

Ethics experts told Coral that Mr. Bernhardt’s efforts to roll back protections for a tiny fish called the delta smelt, a move that would help California farmers gain access to more water for irrigation, violated the Trump administration’s ethics pledge. That’s because the change would disproportionately help the former client, the Westlands Water District.

Mr. Bernhardt told The Times that he had received verbal approval from an Interior Department ethics lawyer and that his actions did not violate ethics rules. His Senate confirmation hearing has not yet been scheduled, but look for lawmakers to further explore these issues then.

There was a rare moment of bipartisan agreement on environmental issues this week when the Senate passed a land conservation bill to protect more than one million acres of wilderness. And the other big news on Capitol Hill is the sweeping “Green New Deal” climate change resolution by Democrats.

A fact sheet that was briefly posted on the website of the resolution’s chief sponsor, Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, marred the measure’s rollout. But a growing number of states are trying to put similar plans into action, as Brad Plumer wrote.

Another piece by Brad, published Wednesday morning, shows what some other countries are doing to reduce greenhouse gases — policies that the United States could use to cut its emissions in half by midcentury.

Meanwhile, in the world of weather, it continues to be winter where we are. And Mr. Trump continues to confuse that, intentionally or not, with climate.

If you’re a regular reader of this newsletter, you probably understand the difference between climate and weather, but you should still read this beautiful essay by one of our climate science experts, Kendra Pierre-Louis.

My favorite line: “Weather tells us what to wear on a given day, while climate tells us what we should put in our closets. It’s why you don’t find many South Floridians with an extensive down coat collection.”

Finally, be sure to read this piece by Andrew Keh, our colleague on the sports desk, about a beloved Dutch speedskating race on natural ice. Because the waterways in the Netherlands rarely freeze over consistently anymore, the race has been relocated to Austria.

Kendra Pierre-Louis


CreditPhoto Illustration by The New York Times; Photo by Oregon State University

It was the summer of 1959 and Warren Washington, then a physics student at Oregon State University, was spending his summer working as a mathematician at the Stanford Research Institute.

“They were working on some kind of atmospheric model,” he recalled, “and I said, ‘Gee, where can I go to get a Ph.D. in this field?’ ”

He had become enamored with climate modeling, or using computers to simulate the global climate. That interest would propel him to earn a Ph.D. in meteorology from Pennsylvania State University, making Dr. Washington one of the first African-Americans to earn a doctorate in the discipline. With Akira Kasahara, he developed the first generation of global climate models, which are still the basis of the models scientists use today.

This week, Dr. Washington, 82, was awarded the Tyler Prize for Environmental Achievement, which is administered by the University of Southern California and recognizes the achievements of environmental problem-solvers. Dr. Washington is splitting this year’s prize, which includes an award of $200,000, with the climatologist Michael E. Mann.

I spoke with Dr. Washington in the days before the announcement. The following interview has been condensed and edited.

What was the original interest in climate modeling?

Our first getting into this was to see if we could simulate the present climate. We were just trying to make the model, make the winds blow in the right direction, precipitation in the right areas, and all the other things that you look for in trying to have a global climate model. How to use these models for climate change experiments came a little bit later.

Even though we didn’t have a complete model, it was still a very useful tool even in the early days to give us some concern.

How has climate modeling evolved?

Oh, it’s great. Satellites have given us tremendous amounts of data to compare our models with, as well as ocean observations and sea-ice observations. We can measure so many things very carefully from space, and these measurements told us where our models needed to be improved.

And there are more people doing the work. When we started we had a small group of, like, five or six people, and now when we have meetings we have hundreds of scientists who are involved in improving our models.

A lot of people are worried that we’re running out of time to act on climate change. Do you wish we had started sooner?

I think I’m a little pessimistic just because there’s this long time scale, the fact that when you burn a molecule of CO₂ it’s going to be in the atmosphere for almost a century.

I spoke to George H.W. Bush’s cabinet in 1989. Cabinet officers started inviting me to come and have secret meetings with their staff away from the White House, saying that they wanted to do more to deal with this problem.

If we would’ve started taking steps in 1989, it would’ve been a lot easier to deal with it. Because now we have to have to do a certain amount of catch-up.

Part of the responsibility of scientists like myself is that they should offer advice to the government as well as speaking to the public directly as part of their responsibility. I’ve been a strong believer in being honest about what our science is telling us and even talking about our shortcomings. And these shortcomings shouldn’t deflect us from trying to find ways to cut down on emissions, because we do know what the root cause of these changes are in our system.

By Jillian Mock

Another Valentine’s Day is here, and we all know what that means: paper Cupids, heart-shaped boxes of chocolates and the classic bouquet of red roses. Lots and lots of roses. This year, Americans are expected to spend $1.9 billion on flowers alone, according to the National Retail Federation.

But those beautiful blooms may come with an environmental price tag. Most of the fresh flowers sold in the United States are grown in Colombia or Ecuador, where there is plenty of sunshine and balmy weather. Flowers are so perishable that most are transported in refrigerated airplanes, an extremely carbon-intensive way to travel. What’s more, growing flowers can be a thirsty, pesticide-heavy endeavor, with the potential to contaminate or strain local water resources, said Kathleen Buckingham, a research manager in the forests program at the World Resources Institute.

Flowers grown closer to home could have an even larger carbon footprint. In colder regions, even temperate California, the flower industry relies on energy-intensive greenhouses. While airfreight is costly in terms of carbon emissions, heating and cooling greenhouses is much more so. A 2007 report by a researcher at Cranfield University in England found that growing 12,000 roses in Europe produced about six times the carbon emissions as growing those flowers in Kenya and flying them to Europe.

So what’s a romantic to do this Thursday? You could skip the flowers altogether, or look for responsibly grown blooms. Organizations like Fair Trade USA and the Rainforest Alliance examine flower farms and give their stamp of approval to farms that mitigate environmental impacts and ensure that workers, who are predominantly women, receive fair wages, health care and other benefits. Not all programs incorporate greenhouse gas emissions in their standards, however, and this remains a problem for the flower industry to tackle, Ms. Buckingham said.

Your local florist may be able to help you learn more, as many track where their flowers come from, said Cheryl Denham, an owner of Arizona Family Florist in Phoenix.

So, no matter how you decide to celebrate Valentine’s Day this year, try to show the planet a little love, too.

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